Whenever I think about the typical workplace style issues women face, I think about how hard it is to dress well in an uber-conservative office.
But the other day, one of my friends was explaining how she was struggling to dress for her new tech job—having come from a conservative K St. think tank in Washington, DC, she wasn’t sure how to adapt her work wardrobe for her new gig at Google. While she wanted to embrace the casual dress code, she also didn’t want all those pencil skirts and crisp button-down shirts she had invested in to go to waste.
So this week, I’m helping her—and anyone else transitioning from corporate to casual—keep her old basics in the weekly rotation, but use them in a less dressy way. Here are some easy ways to adapt your conservative work wardrobe for a more laid-back work environment.
A well-fitted pencil skirt is a wardrobe basic every gal should have, but when paired with a starched-white shirt and heels, it’s no doubt on the more formal end of the office-wear spectrum.
Instead, try topping it with a fun, modern graphic tee or a chambray shirt, and ditch your conservative heels for chunky leather sandals. Finish the look with accessories you love but wouldn't have been able to wear to your old office—like a loud statement necklace or a few stacked bracelets.
Another staple in any working lady’s wardrobe is a crisp and fresh white button-down. To make it work for your new gig, try unbuttoning the cuffs and rolling them up a couple of times (a small move that makes a huge difference in making your look more casual) and throwing on your favorite pair of broken-in jeans. A dark wash always looks polished-yet-relaxed, but you can also pick a pair of lighter-wash boyfriend jeans to further counteract the stuffiness associated with a white button-down. Pair with low-tops or wedges to add some height.
Heels can be a real challenge to transform into a casual look, but the best rule of thumb is to wear them with pieces that are so tomboyish or androgynous that they couldn’t be confused as dressy.
For example, wear slouchy jeans and a tank or tee, finished off with your heels—they end up making you look hip, not like you're trying to dress up. Or, try heels with shorts and a tee. Just make sure your shorts aren’t too short and your heels aren’t too high—casual dress code or not, you don’t want to look inappropriate!
Luckily, the past few years have seen a resurgence of the classic blazer as everyday wear—you can wear these bad boys with just about anything. My favorite casual look is a blazer paired with jeans and a tee or over a super-casual sundress.
But, since you aren't in the business of having to wear one everyday, only keep the ones you love and could see yourself wearing outside of the office. Ditch any that are ill-fitting and take the ones you have left to a tailor if they need a little taking-in. You can also have your tailor switch out the buttons (or do it yourself)—gold or metal buttons will make your blazer look more fun.
Admittedly, trouser pants are pretty hard to make casual. If you have my favorite style of trousers—the Audrey Hepburn-esque straight-legged variety, cropped right above the ankle—you’re in luck! These are very in right now—just wear them with a nautical striped tee and some plain, low-top sneakers in a classic navy or white.
You can also work with trousers that are longer and slightly flared, though. Because of their inevitable length, you have to wear them with heels—so do your best to keep those casual (think an open-toed pair of wedges, and try to steer clear of black). Top with a slouchy tee and throw on a jean jacket to really loosen up the look.
TopicsStyle , Startups , Perfectly Suited by Hannah Baker , Syndication , Fashion at Work , Casual Offices
Hailing from the Peach State, Hannah Baker is a recent transplant to NYC via DC and has worked in television and social media. An obsessive pinner, she loves decorating, finding the best eats (and drinks) in her new neighborhood, and entertaining her goofy dog, Leon. Follow Hannah on Twitter @hanfranbabebake and Pinterest at HFBAKER.More from this Author